As of Monday, Michael Leighton’s six day conditioning stint with the Adirondack Phantoms had ended per the rules surrounding it in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, feeling Leighton unfit to come off of injured reserved asked for an extension from the league and received it.
Leighton played two games for the Phantoms, both of which resulted in a loss. He allowed three goals on 26 shots in the first, and four goals on 27 shots in the second, good enough for a 3.55 goals against average, and a .875 save percentage.
“On one hand I’m saying he needs to play more games, which is what we’re trying to do,” said Holmgren. “We’re trying to get the league to accommodate us to get him to play for games in the American League. The backside of what I’m saying is because of what he went through with his injury, like right now he’s healthy, his back is, but he does have some issues with his leg and I’m a little leery of doing anything, whatever else might entail and not leave ourselves covered.”
The real issue with Leighton’s recovery is the strengthening of the nerves in his leg, which will take time.
“It’s something that… it’s not just numbness, it’s just strength,” said Leighton. “The doctor did say that the nerve has to regenerate itself. It just takes time. It’s been longer than I expected, and the doc wasn’t quite sure how long it could take. I played two games with it, and I felt pretty good. It’s just certain movements and it doesn’t feel right.
“So we are just going to give it an extra week, which is going to be next Saturday. I think that will be good for me.”
Leighton will again be in net for the Phantoms as they face Syracuse on Friday and Portland on Saturday.
In the meantime, the Flyers have been fine without him. Sergei Bobrovsky has more than established himself, winning 14 games (third in the league), with a 2.21 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. He’s in the running for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and is currently ranked second among goalies in all-star votes as a write in.
With the extension, Holmgren won’t have to make a decision until next Monday, but he’s gone so far as to say he will keep all three goaltenders on the roster for at least a short time. Even though Bobrovsky could be moved up and down without penalty, he’s won the right to stay with the club. And because of the sensitivity of Leighton’s injuries, he’ll have to prove he’s healthy enough to be the sole backup.
To bring on Leighton’s $1.55 million salary, Holmgren will have to clear approximately $1 million in cap space. There are a few options, but the most likely would be to waive injured defenseman, Matt Walker’s, $1.7 million salary. Due to hip surgery, Walker hasn’t played a game this season since coming over from Tampa Bay in the Simon Gagne trade.
Although in the short term juggling three goalies may be a decent solution, they can’t do it forever. Brian Boucher may find himself the odd man out. He’s been pretty strong this season strong in playing the backup role to Bobrovsky, posting a 3-3-1 record, a 2.57 goals against average, and a .901 save percentage. However, he’s been inconsistent in the past and his career has been filled with injuries. Also, he’s an unrestricted free agent after this season.
The Flyers will likely give Leighton a chance to prove himself over Boucher, but the one best suited to backup Bobrovsky will win out.